Grand Canyon - South or West Rim?
“There will never be a photograph of the Grand Canyon that can adequately describe its depth, breadth, and true beauty.”
- Stefanie Payne (A Year in the National Parks: The Greatest American Road Trip)
I chose Stefanie Paynes quote as a starting point for this post because it perfectly summarises what I've been trying to repeat to people for years! One can not grasp the scale of the Grand Canyon from a photo; the vastness, colors, serenity, stillness, and size can not be fully comprehended until you are standing right in the heart of the Canyon.
I will outline my experiences of the bus tours that I took to both the South and West Rim, however, you can obviously avail of other ways to experience seeing the Grand Canyon (such as, a helicopter tour, a road trip, or, you could hike through the Canyon and even spend time camping under the stars there).
South or West Rim?
The South and West Rim are two of the most popular destinations for visiting The Grand Canyon and I've been lucky enough to visit both! The South Rim is located further away from Vegas than the West Rim (4-5 hour drive versus 2-3 hour) and it is managed by the National Park Services. It has a lot more viewing points than the West Rim and is said to be more user-friendly - this is largely due to its paved paths along the Rim. It is found at a lower elevation than the West Rim which allows for a good view out over the opposite Rim.
However, I preferred the West Rim! Perhaps it is partially unfair of me to compare both Rims because bad weather affected visibility (sleet, cloudy and rain) during our trip to the South Rim. Also, maybe I was more in awe on my first trip to the Grand Canyon and had thus built expectations too high for our trip to the South Rim - especially after reading reviews advising that it was better than the West Rim. Though the West Rim is not as highly developed as the South Rim, you will still find the popular Skywalk here and have the opportunity to enjoy many activities at Hualapai Ranch (the West Rim is owned by Hualapai Indians)
Hoover Dam / Route 66
Most tours to both the South and West Rim of the Grand Canyon will include a quick stop off at a viewing point to look out over Hoover Dam. If you want to do a proper tour of Hoover Dam then you can either drive out to it yourself (it's not too far from Vegas) or, book a group tour from Vegas. You could complete a tour of the dam within a half day from Vegas.
A lot of the tours to the South Rim also include a stop off along Route 66 (our tour stopped off at the popular Historic Route 66 Museum) which made for some nice photo ops.
(1) HOOVER DAM
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Constructed during The Great Depression, this man-made dam is found at the border between Arizona and Nevada (in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River). Our tour guide was quite informative and answered many questions about the dam and assisted with taking photos too! He advised that the dam's generators provide power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California. The dam is located under an hour from Vegas Strip and is a huge tourist attraction in its own right for tours of the dam. Due to its impressive engineering, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1985, listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1981) and recognized as a National Civil Engineering Landmark in 1984.
The Hoover Dam website provides some great details and maps for planning your trip here. You can opt to (1) just pay to see the visitor center, (2) a 30 minute Power Plant tour including the visitor center, or, (3) a full hour tour of the Dam including the visitor center. Click here for prices and tour details. It is not too far from Vegas so you could drive out to it yourself, if not, there are several tours available to book. Click here for a list of tours on Tripadvisor and here for Viator tour reviews.
(2) GRAND CANYON: SOUTH RIM
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As mentioned, the South Rim is located within The Grand Canyon National Park and it is further of a journey (4-5 hours) from Vegas Strip than that of the West Rim. I had first visited the West Rim years before the South Rim and since then I had read several reviews advising that the South Rim is a better location for a first time tourist to the Grand Canyon.
As previously mentioned, some of the reasons for the South Rims' popularity is that it has more viewing points than the West Rim and is said to be more user-friendly due to its paved paths along the Rim (it includes a 2.5 mile Rim walk). You will also find the small Geology Yavapai Museum and enjoy views of the Colorado River along the Rim walk by the edge of the Canyon. Mather Point is one of the most impressive viewing points along the trail and it is likely to be the first point that you arrive at because it is located just by the car park after entering the main South Rim area. This sight seemed to be pretty spectacular, however, it was quite crowded and difficult to clearly see on the day that we visited as there was sleet and rain causing poor visibility 😢 The South Rim is quite well developed and includes a 'village' area where you will find a cafe, restaurants, studios, and souvenirs for sale.
The South Rim, like the West Rim, is open all year round (obviously weather permitting for road access). The Grand Canyon National Park website provides a lot of information for your visit here and I have included a copy of their South Rim map in the above gallery. You can download a more detailed map from their website (click here). Their website also provides details on ways to get there (click here) and a link to the day tours on offer, however, I noticed that (unlike our day tour) it does not specify a stop off at the Historic Route 66 Museum along Route 66. The tour they advertise does stop off for a fuel break at Kingman, AZ (which is where this Museum is located) so, if this is important to you, then perhaps confirm with them if a stop off at the Museum is included!
The tour we took was through Grand Canyon Destinations and we were very happy with this tour! A little more time on the South Rim would have been nice but it is a large area to cover in a day trip so I'm sure time is limited on most tours from Vegas. Throughout the day we also stopped off at Hoover Dam, Route 66 and In and Out Burgers. We were glad that we had opted for the smaller tour option as time was limited and we needed to queue for pictures and food at these locations. The smaller group tour was not much more expensive than the larger group tour.
Having said all of this, I must admit that I still preferred my prior visit to the West Rim! Perhaps this is unfair of me to say as the weather was pretty bad on the day that we visited the South Rim and this very much took from our views for most of the Rim walk...and we were freezing cold for most of it. As mentioned, it was especially hazy when we started our walk at the impressive Mather Point which was very disappointing. Also, perhaps I was in such awe on my first visit that my second was never going to live up to that!
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One advantage of going to the South Rim was the chance to stop off along Route 66, at the Historic Route 66 Museum, where there were several photo opportunities scattered around outside of the Museum! As mentioned, we had limited time here and this is one of the reasons why we chose the smaller group tour to the Grand Canyon - in the larger tour I think it would have been difficult to spend time getting some good photo ops due to the number of people and limited time. We didn't spend too long in the Museum to be honest (it's quite small) but if you want to read some of the history on Route 66, or, buy some souvenirs then you have the opportunity to do so here.
(3) GRAND CANYON: WEST RIM
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It's close to 10 years since I first visited Vegas and took a day trip to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. I had seen so many pictures of the Grand Canyon and I had read of the scale and size of it before my trip, however, nothing prepared me for just how spectacular it would be when I finally arrived and was standing in the middle of this hugely impressive environment! It truly felt like I was standing in the middle of a painting. From the eerie silence and tranquility of the environment to the vastness of space, the colors and the etched shapes and multitude of erosions within the slopes of the cliffs - it really was a sight to behold.
One of the big advantages of visiting the West Rim is that it is located about 2 hours of a drive closer to Vegas than the South Rim. Although it may not be as commercial as the South Rim (which contains a 'village' and has a 2km paved trail walk with many viewing points), I still gotta say that I preferred the West Rim! As I mentioned, perhaps this may be a biased review as it was my first time to see the Grand Canyon when visiting the West Rim and the bad weather affected my trip to the South Rim, however, I still feel that Guano Point (as seen in the above gallery) was a better viewing point than any of the South Rim viewing points that we saw during our trip!
Unlike the South Rim, where you only really have a view to your right while walking most of the Rim walk, Guano Point allows for a full 360 view of the Canyon! Explore the Grand Canyon West website to find out more about the activities that you can do while there and you will also find information on how to get there, where to stay etc. Not only will you enjoy the views of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River from the West Rim but you will also be able to explore the Hualapai Ranch and, if you are brave enough, walk the Skywalk!
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Even though it may not be as developed as the South Rim, there are other advantages to exploring the West Rim - one being the enjoyable opportunity to explore Hualapai Ranch. The West Rim is owned by Hualapai Indians and I really liked how they have set up the space so that your visit will feel like you have been taken back in time to an old west town (where, for example, you can learn how to rope like a cowboy/cowgirl, horseback ride near the Rim and ride a mechanical bull). You will have the chance to meet Hualapai Tribe members and you can buy handmade and authentic Native American crafts and jewelry and other souvenirs. Click here for more information on the Ranch.
The skywalk is a glass bridge that extends 70 feet out over the Grand Canyon and 4,000 feet above the Canyon floor. As you can probably tell from my lack of photographs - I was not brave enough to walk it!! However, it was a shame to learn that cameras and cell phones are not allowed on the skywalk and that there is a considerable fee for a professional photo if you wish to have a photo taken of your experience here! I think that this is a bit of a rip off seeing as visitors have already paid a fee to enter the skywalk! The entry charge is usually not covered in the cost of your day trip (if you are going through an agency) and it is therefore circa $27 more if you wish to walk the skywalk when you get there! For more information (including current prices) click here.
** Thanks to my cousin Katina for acting as my photographer many times throughout the trip to the South Rim 😄
** Click here for photo blog of the day!